Fiction Story about a USAF Special Ops team.
|After the BUTCHER-1 incident, our team rotated out of the flight schedule for a thorough debriefing in support of an investigation into the crash. We were given a few days off, but were restricted to stay on base in case we were needed for interviews. Most of this time was spent at the largest body of water within 100 miles, the 25-meter indoor pool at the recreation center. The rest of the base inhabitants used the pool for reasons that only made sense. When the temperature spikes over 100, it’s nice to come inside and cool off with a dip after your duty time. But even on our days off, only the Pararescuemen could turn a relaxing luxury into a training opportunity. At any time of day or night, it is not unusual to see the PJs push through the double doors with a Stokes litter, trauma packs, full-size mannequin, swim fins, snorkel and masks. The intensity of their training tends to scare off some of the other workers, and led to a few complaints. In response, the commander of the Special Tactics detachment lobbied with the Base Commander, arguing that the life-saving skills the PJs possess demand constant training.
I usually went to the pool with them, primarily to keep team cohesion, as they went with me up to the base control tower when I needed to maintain currency of my air traffic control skills. In addition to cohesion, both sides picked up some informal cross-training in the process. But swimming laps just to get a workout inevitably led to me playing the victim during their rescue drills. On one occasion a few months back, I was relieved of this duty when Craig Jackson, a civilian base worker and former collegiate swimmer, challenged Camacho to a swimming race. With only one possible answer, our team leader confidently replied, “Sure. See you at the flagpole.”
Camacho respectfully accepted Jackson’s swimming reputation, and tacitly chose not to tell Jackson about his previous triathlons, Ironman competitions, or his successful summiting of Mounts McKinley, Washington, Rainier, and seven of the Colorado Fourteeners. But, knowing that he had absolutely no intention of quitting, he did tell Casey before the match, “Bring in one of the med packs. You might need to use it on me.”
In the spirit of an after-school rumble, at the predestined time, all of the off-duty Special Tactics personnel, including PJs, CCTs, flight crews and maintainers, showed up to root on their teammate. Jackson brought in the rest of his section as well. The air inside the pool hall reeked of chlorine and testosterone. Cheers boomed and echoed as Jackson entered with his minimalist swim trunks, goggles, and head cap. Camacho arrived at the swim deck wearing no less than his standard reflective Pararescue shorts, altimeter watch, and an old t-shirt from his PJ Indoc class.
In full view of the crowd, the two negotiated a race of various distances and strokes. Camacho upped the ante by adding a bit of PJ flair: calisthenics between events. After a few minutes, Camacho and Jackson agreed on a medley of 25 meters underwater, 25 four-count flutter kicks, 50 meter backstroke, 50 pushups, and then a 200 meter freestyle finish. The standing crowd counted down the start as the two competitors gripped the edge of the decking. On command, Camacho and Jackson knifed beneath the chlorine waves. A 25-meter underwater swim is a requirement to enter Pararescue training, and Phillip took an early lead thrusting his vast leg muscles and trained lungs to reach the opposite end of the pool.
After a quick leap out of the water, Camacho laid on his back, hands under buttocks, and rifled through a series of four-count leg lifts. All of the PJs and CCTs gladly dropped to the deck to join him, and drowned the cheering of Jackson’s crowd with a thunderous, unified count. A mere 25 of these is no match for a veteran PJ, accustomed to the hundreds – sometimes thousands – of flutter kicks done on a daily basis in Pararescue training. Camacho had gambled in the negotiations, hoping that this trained swimmer was just that, and would be slowed by a burning abdomen. His foresight paid off, and Camacho returned to the water with a lead that surely would have been impossible in a pure swimming competition.
Craig delayed slightly after completing his flutter kicks, grimacing as he clutched his stomach. Pain aside, Phillip’s 15-meter lead quickly vanished when Jackson returned with a powerful dive and thrashed across with an experienced backstroke. At the crowd’s deafening crescendo, the two racers met on the deck to begin the pushups at the same time. Once again, Camacho, the rest of the PJs and CCTs pushed together in a disciplined ode to teamwork forged in sweat and blood.
Jackson struggled against his own soaked body after forty pushups, allowing Camacho to take an easy lead again. The longer Jackson grunted to lift himself off the deck, the further Phillip pushed ahead in the final stretch. After Camacho completed three of the final eight laps, Jackson finished his pushups and fell back into the pool. The excessive strain on his core and arm muscles had visibly depleted his energy. His pace slowed dramatically, reducing his refined strokes to an unorganized flail. As he approached the middle of the pool after his first turn, Jackson succumbed to his tired condition and fell below the water level. Phillip stopped after losing sight of his competitor, and instead saw the silent crowd searching for Jackson, now a fixed smear descending to the bottom.
It was then, without hesitation, that Phillip ignored his own exhaustion, drew a burning breath down to his bronchioles, and transformed into Master Sergeant Camacho, Pararescueman. In his fatigued, adrenal state, Camacho reverted to an instinctive program that was branded into his cortex at PJ School. A pair of powerful kicks brought the PJ down to his limp victim and in one fluent motion, Phillip wrapped an arm around Jackson’s torso and pushed toward the waiting air above. He had already evaluated the next several steps in this rescue process by the time he pulled his victim up to the water’s surface. Before he gasped for a breath of his own, he called out to his fellow PJs to prepare to breathe for Jackson. “Get the bag!”
Casey ran to retrieve the PJ backpack. Camacho pushed with a sidestroke over to the deck, and handed off Jackson’s flaccid body to a pair of PJs waiting to pull him out. As Casey pulled open the clamshell backpack, Camacho pulled himself out of the water. Jackson’s screaming crowd ran around to the Special Tactics side of the pool hall and pushed against a buffer zone of PJs, pushing back to create a space large enough to allow Camacho and Casey to work. They rolled Jackson onto his back, and Casey knelt at the head to manage Jackson’s airway. He readied a Bag Valve Mask, a clear plastic apparatus with a mouthpiece attached to a flexible bubble that acts as a surrogate lung. It’s a nice alternative to giving someone mouth-to-mouth.
After a forceful shaking failed to revive Jackson, Camacho ordered Casey to give the body an artificial breath. Casey sealed the mask of the BVM over Jackson’s nose and blue-lipped mouth and squeezed the thick plastic bag, pushing nearly a liter of air into Jackson’s fleeting lungs. As the bag recoiled, Camacho began pumping Jackson’s blood with an audible count of thirty chest compressions. After two more breaths, Camacho pumped a second round of compressions, calling to Craig’s pale face, “Come on, buddy! Come on!”
Hope faded with the echoes, and soon the only sounds were Camacho’s wheezing breaths between counts. Before the third round, Camacho checked Jackson’s pulse at the wrist, and Casey pushed more air into Jackson’s rising chest. After the twelfth following compression, Craig writhed in revival and coughed out a lungful of pool water, cutting the silence of the gathered crowd. After Camacho rolled Jackson into recovery position, his victim now a survivor, he finally allowed his energy to expire, and collapsed to the pool deck. Lying on his back, arms spread, Phillip exclaimed along with the crowd with what little wind he had left. He had successfully fended off Death, twice in one week.
After a few minutes on the deck, Phillip Camacho returned to his survivor. A positive flow of blood had flushed into Craig’s face, and his cognition and breathing were slowly returning to normal. Phillip looked into Craig’s bloodshot eyes, and passed on a piece of Pararescue doctrine: “Never quit, bro. Never quit.”